Athens and Ankara are close to striking a deal allowing the contentious issue of rights to Aegean seabed exploitation to be referred to international arbitration, sources have told Kathimerini. The deal would apparently involve both countries signing an agreement to refer the question to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. According to the sources, quoted in Thursday’s Kathimerini, negotiations by top Greek and Turkish diplomats on the matter – which have been ongoing for many months under a heavy veil of secrecy – are expected to be concluded next month. Greece’s longstanding argument is that the only outstanding bilateral issue with Turkey regarding the Aegean is the question of how the continental shelf should be delineated. Athens holds that this should be referred to the international court for arbitration. Resolution of the issue would open the way for exploration and possible exploitation of oil and mineral resources suspected to exist under the Aegean seabed – as well as a significant coup for ruling PASOK, which trails the opposition New Democracy party in opinion polls ahead of the spring elections. In what may have been a hint in this direction, Foreign Minister George Papandreou stressed in a Wednesday interview that «PASOK is the party of peace.» «Ever since [the party’s] foundation, a parameter of its contribution to the country’s affairs has been its peace initiatives,» he told the Ta Nea daily.